LAFAYETTE — The Lafayette Parish School Board will consider creating positions for a full-time attorney and a paralegal at its meeting Wednesday, according to the meeting agenda.
The recommendation to create the positions was based on the school system’s contracted legal expenses, which average about $450,000 annually, district Superintendent Pat Cooper said Tuesday.
Cooper said a savings of about $150,000 to $200,000 annually is expected, and more savings could be gained by having a lawyer working full time on legal matters such as tracking extended sick leave and worker’s compensation claims.
“We’re not able to pay much attention to those because it costs so much to contract with people to do that,” Cooper said.
Until the board decides whether it will hire a full-time attorney, Cooper said, it will consider hiring a special counsel.
A vote will be taken at Wednesday’s meeting on the hiring of the law firm of Escamilla, Poneck, and Cruz, of Monroe, as special counsel. The resolution sets an hourly rate of $100 to $175, depending upon the attorney’s experience, and paralegal services are set at $45 an hour.
The board could still hire special counsel later, even if it hires a full-time attorney, if the need for an attorney with specialized expertise should arise, Cooper said.
Board discussion Wednesday likely will center on how a full-time attorney would affect the appointment by the District Attorney’s Office of a legal adviser.
“Is the district attorney still obligated to provide us an attorney?” Beasley asked. “We want to make sure that the board is still protected.”
Cooper said a full-time attorney would not replace the legal adviser, who provides legal advice to the board.
James Simon, who is the district’s legal adviser, attends School Board meetings and is available to the board twice a week, but does not handle legal work for school system staff business, Cooper said.
The School Board pays about $5,000 annually for Simon’s administrative costs, which includes legal updates, subscriptions and some supplies, said Billy Guidry, district chief financial officer.
At least two neighboring school districts, Iberia and Vermilion, have full-time, in-house attorneys on staff.
The Vermilion Parish school system hired Calvin “Woody” Woodruff, who previously served as the district’s special counsel. Woodruff closed his private practice to become the district’s full-time attorney about five years ago.
Woodruff said Lafayette’s human resources director, Bruce Leininger, asked him to attend Wednesday’s meeting and answer questions for the board about his role.
“There’s about 12 hours of work that can be done every day,” Woodruff said. “I don’t see how a school district in this day and age can get by without full-time legal counsel.”
The size and logistics of a school district are similar to a business and warrant the position, Woodruff said.
“Vermilion has a $75 million budget, 25 schools, 100 buses, 1,200 employees. That’s a big business. Any business that you find out there in the private sector is going to have an attorney,” Woodruff said. “You have to think about that. Then you have the education issues: due process, civil rights, bus accidents, slip and fall, personnel issues.”
Last year, the Iberia Parish school system created a full-time attorney’s position and hired Wayne Landry, a former assistant district attorney assigned as the board’s legal adviser, as its general counsel.
“I think on many different levels, school systems now have to have the consideration of an attorney,” said Dale Henderson, Iberia Parish school superintendent. “We live in a very litigation-driven society. School-teaching is not a simple business anymore.”
The proposed Lafayette Parish school system job description for the general counsel position requires a minimum of 10 years experience. Based on experience, the starting pay for the job could be $87,120, according to the 2011-12 pay scale.
At least five years of experience is preferred for a paralegal. Starting pay for the job is $42,507.
To view the board’s full agenda, visit: http://esb.lpss